Militant Left members on protest in Drogheda. Photo: Militant Left
Militant Left members on protest in Drogheda. Photo: Militant Left

Militant Left (CWI Ireland)

2023 has opened with a sharp and substantial upsurge of activity by far-right, and even some fascist, forces in the south of Ireland. These forces are seeking to capitalise on the seething anger over the housing, healthcare, and cost-of-living crises that are devastating the lives of working-class communities. It is a development that poses urgent questions for the workers’ movement.

Thousands of working-class people across the country are now actively involved in protesting against the presence of refugees in their communities. Many more are active on social media in support of the protests. While this might subside, it is more likely that further protests will develop.

At the heart of this development is a far-right/fascist network of small, fractious political parties like the Irish National Party, the Irish Freedom Party, and a small but vociferous periphery of supporters. These groups tried and failed to take advantage of the Covid lockdowns to advance their agenda. They have also staged violently homophobic rallies outside the Irish parliament, the Dáil. None of these gained any political traction.

Now, however, they are in danger of making a breakthrough. By turning their attention to the accommodation of refugees, they have identified a route to push their dangerous agenda of racism and division. Their immediate agenda is to divert the blame for the housing crisis onto refugees. They are clearly learning to refine their message and it is also obvious that they have access to substantial sources of funding.

These protests are taking place while Irish capitalism fails to deal with two profound social crises. The public health system seems closer than ever to complete collapse, and the housing crisis shows absolutely no sign of resolution and looks instead to get even worse.

Many communities never benefited from the economic ‘boom’ years, but took the full force of austerity after the economic crash of 2008. Despite Ireland ranking as one of the richest countries in the world, hundreds of thousands of workers remain mired in low pay with scant public service provision, atrocious public transport infrastructure and now the prospect of never having secure housing. All of this while looking on at the grotesque spectacle of TDs (MPs) like Damien English and Robert Troy lying and scamming their way to owning oversized mansions and huge property portfolios.

There is a constant simmering anger among the Irish working class. The mass revolt over water charges demonstrated its huge political power. This successful mass movement showed what is possible when the working class, community groups, the socialist left and trade unions work together to defeat the government.

Support for the far right and the response to these anti-refugee protests is only possible because of the lack of a mass working-class socialist political alternative that could build the struggle around the health, housing and cost-of-living crisis. The trade unions taking a lead on these issues would also help turn the tide against the far right. As it is, Peter Casey’s right-wing populist presidential campaign in 2018, where he gained over 23% of the vote, demonstrated the existence of a layer of largely passive support for anti-immigrant rhetoric and language.

The mainstream right-wing parties are sitting firmly on the fence at this moment. There can be absolutely no doubt that if the far right’s ideas make a leap forward, then these parties will not hesitate to incorporate them and use them. Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar’s comments on introducing harsher border controls against ‘illegal’ immigration are a clear and distinct echo of the far right’s demands.

This year there are constitutional referenda scheduled on issues of women’s rights and the family. This potentially offers the far right another opportunity to publicise their views, as they will be legally entitled to access 50% of media coverage during these campaigns. This represents a priceless propaganda opening for them. The workers’ movement must be on high alert and ready to counter this.

Immediate tasks for the workers’ movement

Successful counter-protests in Drogheda (in which Militant Left supporters played a role), Limerick and Drimnagh have taken place against anti-refugee demonstrations. Communities across the country have declared their support and solidarity with refugees. ‘For All’ groups are springing up across the country.

The trade union movement must now move into action and come in openly and forcefully behind campaigns to oppose the far right. It is clear that this spike in far-right activity does not represent, for the time being, majority feeling among the working class in Ireland. There can be no complacency, however. The need to build a mass anti-racist and anti-far right movement is urgent. But this movement also needs to provide answers on how to solve the social and economic crisis facing working-class people if it is going to undercut the potential for the far right to grow.

No solutions under capitalism

These health and housing crises are not going to be resolved quickly, if left in the hands of the capitalist establishment. Indeed, there is almost no indication that the government intends to resolve them at all. The government and its supporters in the media are crowing about a €5 billion government surplus for 2022. This could pay for 20,000 public homes to alleviate the housing crisis and leave enough funds to support the accommodation, health and education needs of refugees. The state has the capacity to borrow billions, if it wanted to, to fund a massive public house building programme and to fund a comprehensive public health system.

Ireland is one of the richest countries in the world. Yet, under capitalism, the Irish political establishment refuses to use the wealth created every year by the workers of Ireland to fund adequate housing and healthcare provision. Instead, over €150 billion in profits are shipped to offshore tax havens every year. There are clearly ample funds available to address the housing crisis and the A&E crisis, as well as to look after refugees. The capitalist class which owns and controls this wealth refuses to do this, however.

The present crisis in accommodation for refugees, which sees people housed in completely inappropriate settings, is yet another example of the delinquent nature of the Irish establishment. Refugees and asylum seekers did not cause the current housing and healthcare crisis. The far-right and fascist elements in our society have no answers or political programme to address the huge problems we face. Instead, they do the dirty work of the capitalist class by trying to turn the justified mass anger over housing and healthcare against refugees.

Militant Left calls for a massive programme of public investment to build the homes that are needed, to establish a fully funded public health system and for increases in pay and incomes that fully match the cost of living. The money is there. By taking the wealth from the super-rich through a programme of public ownership and democratic control of the banks, construction companies and big business, the money could be found immediately.

The current economic crisis is just another example of capitalism working as normal. Ultimately, the only way to end deep social crises, like the one we are experiencing in housing, health and incomes, is to take the power, ownership and control of wealth and capital out of the hands of the tiny capitalist class through democratic public ownership and control. A socialist plan would remove profiteering and greed from the provision of housing and focus instead on human need. That is why we need to build a new party for the working class and trade unionists, to fight for these and other essential socialist policies, and to defeat the ideas of the far right.

Facing down the far right is an urgent political task. Militant Left will play an active role in this task and will work with all forces opposed to far-right and fascist groups.